Tuesday, 11 June 2019
National Development Plan: Motion [Private Members]
I move amendment No. 2:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:"notes:— the significant progress made in implementing the National Development Plan (NDP) as detailed in the first Project Ireland 2040 Annual Report published on 2nd May, 2019;
— that climate action and the transition to renewable energy is already a key priority in the NDP with circa €30 billion dedicated to this over the period of the plan, and in addition, the Government will shortly publish a new all-of-Government Climate Action Plan which will set ambitious targets for decarbonisation over the coming decades, using the funding available in the NDP to the maximum potential to help achieve these targets; and
— that the approach to remaining funding requirements will be clarified in the Summer Economic Statement and the Mid-Year Expenditure Report."
I agree with many of the points made by Deputy Catherine Murphy. She articulated the need for capital investment in an economy that has a young society and is growing quickly. We are all aware of the many intense needs in the economy in areas like housing and public transport, as acknowledged by the Deputy. She made the point that if we are going to increase capital investment, we must do so in a strategic way that is integrated with the national development plan. I differ from the Deputy insofar as I suggest we already have a plan, Ireland 2040, that looks to meet many of the objectives she mentioned. I accept that there are challenges and appreciate that there are things we should have done better. We have acknowledged the mistakes that have been made in the case of the national children's hospital. This plan seeks to provide for a significant increase in capital investment and to respond to the challenges that have been mentioned.
I would like to make two points in response to what the Deputy said about the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council's fiscal sustainability report which was published earlier today. First, I have debated these matters in this Chamber and elsewhere during my three years as Minister with responsibility for handling this issue and not once during that time has a Deputy called on me to spend less or to run a larger surplus. That has not yet happened to me. Even in the debates that have happened since the council's report was published earlier today, calls for such policy action have not been part of the narrative. Second, I would like to respond to the Deputy's point about corporation tax by reminding her that we decided in last year's budget to change the rate of VAT that applies in the hospitality sector. Of course, the increase in corporation tax is making a large contribution to the funding of the various capital projects we are debating this evening and has already enabled a great deal of progress to be made under Ireland 2040. If we examine what that progress looks like, we will see that it is real.
When Ireland 2040 was being launched last year, I faced Opposition claims that the plan did not exist. Those who made such claims last year are claiming now that Ireland 2040 is being undermined. I suggest this change can be attributed to the progress the plan has already made and the difference it is already making in communities. Eighteen primary care centres were opened last year, with a further 11 centres due to open this year. Ireland 2040 is enabling the delivery of more homes, including the social and public housing that is needed. In the area of higher and further education, new investments are under way at Technological University Dublin. In the area of arts and heritage, 47 new projects moved ahead in 2018 due to funding enabled by Ireland 2040. That is what is happening. Of course, there are areas we need to challenge and improve. Of course, we have learned from things that have been done with the national children's hospital project. We need to ensure those things are done better in the future. In acknowledging what has gone wrong and what could have been done differently in the case of the national children's hospital, I will not lose sight of the argument that many other things that are happening under Ireland 2040 are making a real difference to the lives of citizens and can make a difference to the lives of more citizens.
If there was ever a point in time when capital expenditure needed to increase by 24%, which is what we are doing this year, surely this point in time, when we are approaching Brexit, is it. This year, capital investment in the economy will move beyond €7 billion. As the Deputy correctly said, many of the challenges we are facing have resulted from the unevenness of our investment in the so-called capital of the country, which is code for people's homes and the buses and trains they can get on, over the years. Such investment has tended to surge and plummet. Ireland 2040 is seeking to increase investment quickly in the medium term before sustaining it in the longer term. The existence of such plans is one of the reasons the economy has grown in the way we have seen in recent years and one of the reasons we have seen changes in projects like those to which I have referred. In addition, a number of processes are in place to track where projects stand and where we are overall. We have launched the investment projects and programme tracker, which is publicly available. We have launched an online mapping tool to help citizens to understand where key projects stand. We are putting in place the Land Development Agency to deal with the issue of how to create public land banks in cities in a way that enables and incentivises the delivery of more homes by landowners.
Climate change is one of the main areas in which outcomes are called for in Ireland 2040 and one of the biggest recipients of funding in the plan. Almost €30 billion has been allocated against funding choices that can make a difference to climate change. The objective of the contested public transport projects under the plan is to get more of our citizens onto high-speed public transport. The retrofitting of existing homes is another priority under the plan. We want to do some work on renewable heat. All of this is being put in place by Ireland 2040 and by the priority that is being placed against climate change as a result. It is understandable there has been much debate about funding allocations in this context. The strength of those allocations is that they are multi-annual. When we have got to points of strength in the economy in the past, we have usually increased capital investment up to the point at which we can no longer afford it. We look to increase public investment and then have to cut it back at a time when we need it the most. In this plan, we are looking to increase capital investment over time before holding it steady to respond to many of the challenges that are debated in this House day after day, particularly in the context of motions like this one.
I accept many of the arguments that have been made by Deputy Catherine Murphy about things that are needed. I differ from her on the progress that has been made under Ireland 2040 in seeking to address the issues she has identified. The amendment I have proposed refers to the progress that has been made, acknowledges what has been done with regard to climate change and mentions that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, will publish an all-of-government climate action plan. By seeking to manage how we fund projects over many years, as opposed to doing it year to year, we will have the resources we need to respond to the issues that have been raised by the Deputy. I contend that one of the best responses to the many challenges facing us involves managing and funding capital investment in the economy in a way that delivers better homes, better universities and better public transport at a time when citizens are most in need of such services.